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BWW Review: WAD at ACT

A Virtual Well Performed Show that Makes Little Sense

BWW Review: WAD at ACT
Avery Clark, Keiko Green and
Rachel Guyer-Mafune from ACT's WAD

The lives of prisoners are a well-known trope for many dramas. The inmate and the Nun in the film "Dead Man Walking", two unlikely allied prisoners and a figment in "Kiss of the Spider Woman". The genre is visited time and time again as it's a world few of us, thankfully, have experience in, opening all new doors of emotional stakes. However, you need to have those emotional stakes for it to work. Furthermore, those other examples work as they are conversations between people in the same room. Keiko Green's virtual offering from ACT, "Wad", however misses the mark on both of these aspects. With a method of communication that makes no sense and a non-existent story arc, the show amounts to an unengaging and often times infuriating evening only saved by two engaging actors.

The conceit of the show is that we have a high school senior, Nyce (Rachel Guyer-Mafune), and a death row inmate, Jim (Avery Clark), in a pen pal correspondence leading up to Jim's quickly approaching execution day. And therein lies the crux of the story and also its problems. First, let's look at the physical staging issues. Jim is in his cell and Nyce is in her bedroom. The two characters never meet (aside from some equally problematic fantasy sequences which we'll get to in a minute) and are communicating through physical letters, facilitated by some website that connects prison pen pals. But the play swiftly ignores the reality of it all as the two characters are in a conversation. I've seen this in other plays, and it drives me crazy as, unless the characters are sending letters consisting of things like "oh" or "don't say that" and nothing else, then the conceit of the correspondence is ridiculous. This is a conversation, plain and simple, and to pretend it's anything else is silly. And you could say I need to get past this and ignore the idea that these are letters except they keep indicating the delivery of said letters by wadding up pieces of paper and hurling them off camera (hence the title "Wad"). So, they kept reminding me "These are letters!" Which reminds me that the conversational style makes no sense. Especially when the characters delve (for some unfathomable reason) into fantasy sequences where they are in a noir film, a Salem witch trial, a psychedelic void, or my personal least favorite, when they communicated through puppets. Yes, puppets ... in a letter. I don't get it either.

OK, let's say, for the sake of argument, that we ignore the inane lack of any sense of reality surrounding this very real world situation. Let's talk about the story, or lack thereof. I don't know what Green was trying to convey with these two. The synopsis says something about the isolation that people feel, but what we have is a man who has committed a horrific crime, and an insipid young girl who sees this relationship and his crime as some sort of entertainment. She inappropriately flirts with him, in his last few dwindling days, in order to milk him for her own amusement. And then callously abandons him for long periods when it suits her fancy. Even in his final moments when he (spoiler alert) is executed, he waxes on about his crime and wonders if Nyce or his own mother are there watching, and she's happily making some eggs. What's the message here? People are awful? Teens are insensitive? Killers are playthings? Who knows? All I know is no one grows or changes throughout the play. There is no arc, no stakes, no overriding conflict. Just a ridiculous conversation that amounts to nothing, wrapped in a production that ignores the laws of physics or time. Oh, don't even get me started on the abandonment of how time works here.

Guyer-Mafune and Clark are very gifted actors. I've seen them in many other things where they thrill. And even here they are engaging and likable, which is the only saving grace of the show. That and the reality that they created this in their respective homes with some interesting film work and effects from MJ Sieber.

But those few bright spots aside, what we're left with is a play that makes no sense, goes nowhere, and doesn't work. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give ACT's virtual production of "Wad" a confused and bored NAH. Shows about correspondence can work, like A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters", but only if you stick to reality and have something to say.

"Wad" from ACT is available to stream through April 4th. For tickets or information, visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.


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From This Author Jay Irwin